In California, the act of willingly and offensively touching another person can make you face domestic battery charges. Also known as spousal battery, these charges apply only if the victim is your intimate partner. An intimate partner, in this case, can be your spouse or cohabitant, your child, or someone that you have previously dated. If you are facing charges for this form of domestic violence in Vista, California or the entire North San Diego County areas, Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm can help you to fight the charges. Some of the arguments that our attorneys can use to defend you include: you acted under self-defense or defense for others, you are wrongly accused, you did not touch or harm the victim intentionally, and the prosecutor’s evidence is insufficient to convict you.

Elements Used by a Prosecutor to Prove a Domestic Battery Case

For your act to be a domestic battery, the prosecutor needs to prove that the actions bear the following characteristics:

  • you intentionally touched another person,
  • the touch was disrespectful or harmful, and
  • the person whom you touched is your current or former intimate partner. According to Penal Code 243(e) (1), an intimate partner could be the defendant’s former spouse or cohabitant. He/she can also be the defendant's fiancé, the defendant’s child, or someone whom the accused is dating or had previously dated.

The willful element of domestic battery implies that you touched someone with the intention to harm them, disrespect them, or break the law. However, the prosecutor does not need to show that you caused pain for your touch to be considered disrespectful – simple actions like touching someone angrily qualify as evidence of a domestic battery case.

Difference Between Domestic Battery and Domestic Assault

You should not confuse domestic battery with domestic assault. Domestic battery entails touching someone with the intention of causing physical harm or disrespecting them. Some of the actions that qualify as domestic battery include choking, slapping, pushing, and punching. Unsolicited sexual activity can also be a form of domestic battery. Throwing items at a person, use of weapons, beating up a pregnant woman or an action that causes disfigurement are examples of actions that have severe consequences if charged as domestic batteries.

On the other hand, domestic assault is the attempt to use force or violence on someone else. As opposed to a domestic battery which entails causing physical harm, a domestic assault is geared towards emotional or mental harm. Some examples of domestic assault acts are name-calling or threats that can torment the victim. Hence, victims of domestic assault usually undergo counseling to avoid post-traumatic stress disorder.

Types of Domestic Battery

Some forms of domestic battery are simple domestic battery, aggravated domestic battery, and corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. A simple domestic battery charge is the act of intentionally inflicting violence or force on your intimate partner. This offense is treated as a misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $2,000 or a maximum of one year in county jail. In some cases, you may serve both the jail sentence and pay the fine.

Aggravated domestic battery occurs when severe bodily harm is caused to someone. For one to be convicted of this offense there must be evidence of injuries on the victim. If the victim is not an intimate partner to the perpetrator, this offense can be charged as aggravated domestic battery under PEN 243(d).

According to PEN 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse occurs when physical harm is inflicted on the defendant’s intimate partner deliberately, which later causes a traumatic condition. A proof of this offense can simply rely on the physical injuries that the perpetrator inflicted on his/her spouse.

Domestic Battery Penalties

In California, if you are found guilty of domestic battery, you can face misdemeanor penalties (including formal probation, a county jail term, and fines) and immigration status consequences.

The maximum sentence is a year in county jail. You may also be required to pay a maximum fine of 2,000 dollars and/or undergo a summary (misdemeanor) probation.

Probation involves the suspension of a sentence, but the convict must meet the probation conditions including the completion of a batterer’s intervention programs (which takes a minimum one year) and no contact with the victims. If the defendant refuses to follow the provisions, there can be a revocation of the probation. If this happens, the defendant will be required to serve the jail sentence and pay the fines.

Unlike formal probation that is officer-supervised, an informal or summary probation is supervised by the court. Thus, the judge decides on the conditions of the probation depending on the circumstances of the crime. For instance, instead of paying the $2,000 misdemeanor fine, the judge may impose:

  • a maximum of $5,000 as payments for the shelter of battered women, and/or
  • reasonable fines to cover the expenses incurred by the victim because of the battery such as the counseling costs.

If you have committed this offense for the second or subsequent times and probation is given, you will still have to serve a minimum of 48 hours in county jail. But if you are able to persuade the judge with satisfactory reason as to why you should be out of jail, he/she can drop this requirement so that you can only serve the given probation period.

Even though a simple domestic battery may not be so severe as to guarantee felony penalties, immigration consequences may be imposed on foreigners. This consequence results from the federal immigration requirements that categorize forms of domestic violence as “deportable” crimes. Since domestic battery is a domestic violence crime, the convict may be deported even if they are in the state legally.

The aggressive violence sometimes causes a lack of employment. The reason for this being that employers are afraid of the liabilities that come with employing a person convicted of aggravated domestic battery. Thus, your state agency’s licensing may be revoked.

Legal Defenses of Domestic Battery

Fighting criminal charges involves challenging the evidence presented by the prosecutor for that offense. In particular, fighting a domestic battery charge involves showing the court that the elements of a domestic battery were not satisfactorily proved to guarantee a conviction. That is, you did not touch the person, you are falsely accused, or the touch was not intentional and offensive.

  1. You did not touch the person. This defense can be useful if the victim has no bruises or injury marks. Usually, a photograph of the victim is taken immediately the case is reported so that there is proof that the act took place. If the prosecutor cannot provide such evidence, or if they are unable to provide any evidence that you touched the complainant, they may not have a strong enough case. If the victim has bruises or injuries, the defendant can also acknowledge that the bruises were caused by another action that is not from them. For the defendant to win the case with this type of defense, he/she has to have good evidence. This is called alternative causation – the judge has the discretion to decide whether the prosecutor’s evidence is enough or the defense argument refutes the prosecutor’s claims.

  2. You are falsely accused. The desire for revenge, hate, or anger can cause your intimate partner to falsely accuse you of a domestic battery. Your criminal defense attorney will analyze the case and/or interview some witnesses to gauge the intent of the complainant to file the charges. Also, written or text conversations between the supposed victim and the defendant can be analyzed to determine the root of the case.

  3. You did not commit the crime willingly. A criminal defense attorney can show that you had no criminal intent to harm the complainant, you were not engaged in a criminal act, and you were not negligent. A person may not be convicted if the judge has sufficient proof that the act was accidental. However, the person must be engaged in lawful activities that do not break any statute. For instance, if you were arguing with your spouse in your apartment and, out of anger, you threw an object at the wall; you should be acquitted on the basis that you did not willfully touch your spouse.

  4. The defense of others or yourself. There are instances when you have to defend yourself or others from imminent danger. You can use this argument as a defense strategy. However, the judge must be satisfied that: (a) you or the complainant was facing an imminent danger that would cause them to suffer bodily injury; (b) you had reasonable belief that using force would immediately quash the danger; (c) the force you used was not excessive, but only reasonable enough to suppress the imminent danger. Note that all these facts must be proved for the self-defense or defense for others to be a valid defense against domestic battery charges. 

Related Offenses to Domestic Battery

A Deliberate Infliction of Corporal Injury

According to PEN 273.5, this offense is committed if you intentionally inflict bodily injury on your intimate partner. Its difference to the spousal/domestic battery is that the partner must have incurred a physical injury for you to be in violation of Penal Code 273.5. Deliberate infliction of bodily harm is a wobbler under the California Laws. Depending on the case circumstances or the defendant's criminal history, the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Aggravated Battery

Aggravated Battery under PEN 243 (d) is the actual use of force or violence on a person to make them sustain a substantial bodily injury. The main difference between this offense and a domestic battery is that a penal code 243 (d) conviction does not require the victim to be an intimate partner to the defendant.

Also known as battery causing serious bodily injury, this offense is a wobbler. When charged as a misdemeanor, the punishments include a maximum county jail term of one year and/or a maximum fine of 1,000 dollars. As a felony, the offense is punishable by a jail term of two, three, or four years. A maximum fine of 10,000 dollars may also be imposed.

Just like in a domestic battery case, defending aggravated battery charges involves using legal arguments such as you were reasonably defending another person or yourself, the injury caused was accidental, or you didn’t inflict a substantial injury to the purported victim.

Elder Abuse

Under PEN 368, when you physically abuse, emotionally abuse, financially exploit, neglect, or endanger the lives of people who are 65 years and above, you are subject to elder abuse charges. In relation to this statute, physical abuse occurs when pain or injury is inflicted on a senior person. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, occurs when you cause mental suffering to a senior person through ridicule and mental disturbance. Lastly, financial exploitation of the elderly involves using fraud to acquire money from the person.

In most cases, prosecutors choose to prosecute the defendant with elder abuse instead of domestic battery if:

  • the victim is at least 65 years old, and
  • the defendant committed a domestic battery.

Elder abuse has stiffer punishments than a domestic battery, and it can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, you face informal probation, counseling, a maximum one-year county jail sentence, $6000 maximum fine or a maximum fine of $10,000 if you are convicted for the second or subsequent times, and paying the victim’s restitution.

As a felony, you face formal probation, counseling, restitution, a fine of $10,000, two to four years in the state prison with an addition of three to seven years if the bodily injury is extreme. It also causes a strike under California’s three strike law.

Similar to a domestic battery case, an elder abuse charge can stem from false accusations or mistaken identity and accidental injuries. Besides, if the prosecutor elects to charge you with elder abuse instead of domestic battery, you need an experienced attorney that is well-versed with all assault laws to help you avoid the stiffer elder abuse penalties.

Disturbing the Peace under PEN 415

This statute can be violated through fighting unlawfully or challenging other people to fight. The fight must have taken place in a public area. But in case you fought to defend yourself or another person, the judge may dismiss your charges for disturbing the peace.

You may also find yourself in violation of this statute if you used offensive words to provoke another person to fight or when the words were so noisy as to disturb others. Under PEN 415(3), a word is offensive if it provokes a violent reaction, and it was done in public. On the other hand, PEN 415(2) provides that unreasonable noises that disturb others must have imminent danger to another person(s) or disrupt lawful activities.

The punishments for disturbing the peace include a misdemeanor (informal) probation, a $400 fine, and up to 90 days in county jail. In case you have committed the crime for the second time, the potential penalties are a minimum jail sentence of 90 days and a maximum fine of 1,000 dollars. If the offense is charged as an infraction instead of a misdemeanor, the infraction penalty includes paying a maximum fine of 250 dollars with no jail sentence.

To a person charged with domestic battery, the good news is that the defense attorney can bargain for the reduction of the charges to disturbing the peace charges. If the prosecutor agrees to this plea bargain, the person would not face the immigration consequences and the stigma that is associated with a domestic battery conviction. Additionally, the person will not have the offense filed in their criminal record if the charge is reduced to an infraction.

Aggravated Trespass (PEN 601)

A violation of PEN 601 involves threatening to cause severe harm to a person, then within 30 days of making the threat, you enter the person's homestead or workplace with the intention of carrying out the threat. If you entered your workplace or homestead, then you are not liable to aggravated trespass charges.

The penalties of the aggravated trespass depend on whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor, you are given summary probation, jailed for a maximum of one year, and/or fined $2000. If it is charged as a felony, the potential penalties include formal probation, a maximum fine of $10,000 and a 16-month, two-year, or three-year county jail sentence.

Find a Domestic Battery Attorney Near Me

If you are facing a domestic battery case, you risk facing other serious charges such as elder abuse if the victim was a senior. However, don’t worry because Vista Criminal Law Firm is ready to legally represent you and fight the charges. Our lawyers are equipped with the required criminal defense skills to evaluate your case and possibly help in the dismissal of your case or reduction of the charges. We serve clients in Vista California and the whole of North County. Call our Vista Criminal Lawyer at 760-691-1551 to get customized help.